Many thanks to Allen Coles 3rd of Columbia, South Carolina, for his email telling me about his late father, who was a member of the battalion chronicled in my book, FORGOTTEN. Sgt. Allen Jay Coles, Jr., waited decades to tell his children that he had landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. A native of Brooklyn, he was one of the first to be drafted into service. He joked that it was the only lottery he ever "won." He was good friends with Wilson Monk, another 320th vet I was lucky to meet and who became like a second father to me. Allen sent me a photo of his parents the Monks at Café Zanzibar in New York, all of them looking young and gorgeous. Both men married their sweethearts while on furlough in December 1944, before they were shipped to the Pacific. Theirs was the only African-American unit during World War II to serve in both Europe and Asia. You can read more about Allen Coles here and Wilson Monk here.
Theolus "B" Wells, one of the men featured in FORGOTTEN, passed away July 16. He was 96. Mr. Wells, 96, of Orangeburg, South Carolina, shared a foxhole on Utah Beach on D-Day. "I didn't have enough sense to be scared," he said, explaining that he was just a kid. During his time in Britain training for the invasion, he was often mistaken for the boxing champ Joe Louis. He didn't always correct the mistake, he said with a smile, especially if the person asking him happened to be a lady. You can read more about him here.
I was so very touched to receive an email from Roger Moss, executive director of the Savannah (Ga.) Children's Choir, which performed a work at the June 6, D-Day ceremonies at the American Cemetery in Normandy paying tribute to the men of my book FORGOTTEN. Roger writes, "One of our children presented a report based on your book in order for the children to understand. Here are the lyrics. Thank you for your book." Thank you Roger, and the children in the choir!
A SOLDIER'S HEART
Music: Wycliffe Gordon; Lyrics: Roger Moss
Brave and strong
Filled with gratefulness and song
Our hearts are full
Without worry or fear
All thanks to what you showed us here
For on these banks
With the light of battle in your eyes
You flew balloons of freedom in the skies
From many cities and sometimes kept apart
One thing in common, a soldier’s heart
A Soldier’s heart, a soldier’s spirit, a soldier’s soul
A heart whose beats are freedom songs
A spirit calls to right the wrongs
A soul that seeks justice and peace
Your children’s thanks will never cease
As we leave this place we’ll hold you near
Remembering all that we learned here
Our lives changed
Each day we’ll start
Living our lives with a soldier’s heart
Many thanks to Dr. John T. Mills and Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ, for inviting Linda Hervieux and Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes to kick off their Black History Month series. Pictured with Linda is from right to left, Mills, Prof. Lola Ames, and G, a student who sprung for the book, something few starving students do anywhere.
After the publication of FORGOTTEN: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes, Earl Coaston wrote to this website about his father, who was not in the book. For decades after landing in the killing field that was Omaha Beach, Coaston rarely spoke of the war. “Certainly the terror and horror of the war played a part," his son says, "but for him to give that part of himself to a country that did not believe that he deserved the respect due any human being, let alone a war veteran with two Bronze Stars, ate at him for the rest of his life.” You can read his full story here. See all the men of FORGOTTEN (so far) here. If you know a man who should be in this gallery, please contact Linda Hervieux here.
Today is the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, the beginning of the end of World War II. Few of the men of I interviewed for my book "Forgotten" are still with us, but Henry Parham of Pittsburgh, 96, of Pittsburgh, is one of them. On May 7, 2013, the French Embassy in Washington, DC, awarded him the Legion of Honor for his service on that very long day. His war story begins in Dec. 1942, when the draft letter came in the mail. “They got me,” he said. Parham's reluctance to serve wasn’t rooted in the extreme difficulties of serving in a racist Jim Crow army where he knew he would be treated as less than a man. He didn't lack patriotism. His reasons were more practical. He had left a sleepy corner of rural Virginia where mostly everyone he knew worked as a sharecropper. He wanted something better, and was happy to land a steady job as a porter at a bus station in Richmond, Va., where he was earning a sum that provided, for the first time in his 21 years, a dose of security. Yet he boarded a train bound for a new Army training camp in Tennessee, and trained to fly giant balloons. That secret mission would take him across the sea to a 5-mile-long patch of sand called Omaha Beach. There, Parham would be tested as never before. You can read more about him and the men of D-Day's only African-American combat unit in my book and here.
Good news! WWII Navy hero Carl Clark, 100, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Clark helped saved his ship and many shipmates after a Japanese kamikaze attack but was denied proper recognition. Like Waverly Woodson, the Army Medal of Honor nominee I have written about extensively on this page, Mr. Clark was a victim of the US military's policy of denying top honors to African Americans. He finally got a Commendation Medal-- and a thank you -- in 2012. I'll always be thankful to Ricki Stevenson, Robin Bates and Constance Bryan for bringing us together last March for a talk at UC Berkeley. Dapper in his Navy uniform -- it still fit him perfectly -- he was still going strong and was a compelling speaker. He also wrote a memoir. Click here to read more about Mr. Clark.
Bookwitty and journalist Olivia Snaidje featured FORGOTTEN: The Untold Story of D'Day's Black Heroes for Black History Month, and an interview with Linda Hervieux. Smaidje writes: "The fruit of nearly six years of research, Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes is a compelling history of an all-black battalion and its men who went unrecognized until now. It is also a frank account of 'a white woman from Massachusetts' educating herself about the African American experience. And it is above all, the sobering story of the United States, the "Jim Crow" laws that enforced segregation from the 1880s into the 1960s, and a reminder of the shocking racism that permeated the lives of African Americans at the time; a reality unresolved today." Click here to read the interview.